Luca Ammendola shot his first award-winning film in a drug rehabilitation center in Brazil, focusing on young drug traffickers and a missionary priest. In his new role as executive producer and lead editor, he narrates the story of a street guitarist whose music is so overwhelming that a drug dealer refuses to sell him drugs. Who is Estas Tonne? Why is he much more than a social media phenomenon? Why do many people see him as a messiah? And why does his life fascinate two emerging film directors who aim at competing in prestigious film festivals with their new project?

His guitars know Estas best, for they are emotionally and spiritually connected to him.

After winning nine awards for Dear Child, your first feature film, Tal Cohen-Litant offered you the opportunity to team up with him and to produce and edit his upcoming film I Am Music. How did this project come about?

I met Tal in September 2020 at the Ferrara Film Festival where his short film 7PM and my film Dear Child competed in different categories. Tal, who was indecisive about his new film project, showed me a few videos of Estas Tonne, an artist I had never heard of before. One of his songs featured in Tal’s award-winning short film 7PM. Even though I had only caught a fleeting glimpse of the musician, I immediately said, “Why don’t you make a film about Estas Tonne?”

You and Tal have combined your creative strengths to create a film about Estas Tonne. What are your respective roles in this collaboration?

Tal, who has been dreaming of making this film for a year, is the film director and the ship’s captain. I’m the executive producer and lead editor, which means I help him in the organizational and artistic process.

(Left) A golden dragon marked the beginning of their friendship: film directors Tal Cohen-Litant and Luca Ammendola (in blue). (© All photos by Geri Dagys)

Financing is one of the most crucial aspects of any film project and its launch. Who are the investors of this film?

Currently, It’s a self-funded project. But we are in touch with various film production companies. I can’t name any of them now, but various co-production companies and private investors are keen to finance the film.

In autumn 2021, you and Tal travelled to Austria to meet Estas in person and to spend some time with him, while discussing the possibilities of a film project. You had never followed the artist’s career before. What was your first impression of Estas Tonne?

He’s a nobleman of ancient times. A man with a strong sense of friendship, loyalty, and ethics. He devotes his body and soul to his artistic expression. He’s an honest man who tries in every possible way to improve his condition and that of all the people who surround him. Moreover, he has a great sense of humour, which is always a sign of great intelligence. And he’s a highly sensitive soul.

What do you mean by a highly sensitive soul?

He has a unique perception capacity regarding the people around him.

Do you think that people who watch Estas’ videos understand who he really is, or does his social media presence, including his messages, give a slightly distorted picture of him?

I’m not really active on social media. Therefore I’m not familiar with his social media presence. When people watch a film or a video, it’s always subjective. But in his concerts, which he calls sound journeys, Estas always shows great honesty and goes even further – he shows himself emotionally naked.

On 24 April 2019, his 44th birthday, Estas played a concert in Zaporizhzhia, where he grew up, paying tribute to his former guitar teacher, Sergey Borisovich Sherbak, whose picture was displayed on a music stand.

What about the mystification of Estas Tonne? Some people think that he’s a messiah.

Some people tend to mystify him too much, but this often happens with public figures. Estas has no intention whatsoever to stoke his mystification. On the contrary, he tries to stop this tendency. One of the purposes of our film is to demystify Estas and show a more human side of himself.

How strong is the impact of Estas’ physical appearance, which changed over the years? For many people, he bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Jesus.

(Luca laughs.) We asked Estas the same question. He said that he wasn’t really aware of it. Due to an important event that occurred about 15 years ago in his life, he decided to let his hair and his beard grow. This decision marked a rebirth. But Estas does not intend to become a guru or impose a credo. The fact that many people see Estas as a modern Jesus Christ reveals more about the viewers than about the artist. It shows how deeply rooted Christian culture is in our society.

Estas Tonne is the main character of the film. Who else will appear in it?

Many people are part of his universe. The film features various musicians from all over the world and obviously Estas’ team that has been following him for 15 years – Leon, his sound engineer; Geri, his photographer and videographer; Mayka, his social media manager, etc. There’s a whole galaxy that orbits around Estas.

A galaxy consists of distant stars, some of which are not visible. Who else apart from Estas was involved in making the decisions for the film?

Estas controls his own destiny, and no one can persuade him to act against his will. He’s an independent artist who doesn’t collaborate with a big record label. No one pulls the strings in the background. We both met him in Austria, where he lives, because we wanted to get to know him, and he wanted to get to know us to decide whether he wanted to collaborate with us or not. Therefore, we had to convince only him and no one else.

Estas and a part of his team, amongst which Leon, his sound engineer (front left); Geri, his photographer and videographer (front right); Mikhail, his manager (behind, second from right). Odessa, 2018.

How did he react to your film projects and ideas?

He reacted with great enthusiasm and even dove headfirst into the project with his ideas and suggestions. He gave us access to his private life, his entourage, his music, and his tour. He gave us carte blanche.

Why did Estas agree to collaborate with you and Tal? What was different from the projects he had rejected in the past?

That’s a question you should ask Estas. He never asked us to hide any aspect or part of his life or personality. You can read him like a book; he’s very honest as a private person and a public figure. I assume he liked our honest approach. Moreover, Tal never intended to shoot a purely biographical film focusing exclusively on Estas Tonne and his life. For Tal, the film director, Estas is a trampoline, a point from which he will discuss many different things. Tal wants to open a much wider dialogue with his upcoming film.

What’s the message of the film?

The film uses some elements of Estas’ life story and follows him on his latest Envision Tour. But the main subject is set at a higher level – the relationship between music and spiritual work. How can music become a tool for healing physically and mentally? For Estas, music is not only entertainment. It affects people’s souls. Exploring this question is the aim of our documentary. How can the power of music change the soul of a person?

Isn’t the power of music universal? Hundreds of thousands of artists transmit emotions with their music. Every listener decides for himself which impact an artist’s music has on him as soon as he hears it.

Yes, music is poetry, and the listener adds his part. In his sound journeys, Estas makes the participants do this work. His music is structured to create a mental or spiritual space in which the participants can work on themselves. He intentionally creates the music and the situation for the listener’s introspection.

How did you approach the metamorphosis from Stanislav to Estas in the film?

Estas Tonne has lived 1000 lives. That’s one of the interesting aspects. He was a child prodigy in music. Later, they discovered that he had a hearing defect in one ear. Therefore he didn’t get the correct frequency of musical notes, which prevented him from attending a conservatory.

Consequently, the guitar and the music were taken away from him. When his parents emigrated to Israel, he had to learn a new language and build a new life in a foreign country. He had very dark episodes in his life in which he experimented with petty crime and drugs. But years later, in New York, the guitar found its way back into Estas’ life, and he experienced a rebirth. Music came back into his life, even though only as a hobby at the beginning.

Three generations, one passion – the guitar. Estas with Sergey Borisovich Sherbak, his former guitar teacher, and Sergey’s grandson.

Are there any similarities between Estas Tonne and Father Renato, the leading character of your previous film, Dear Child?

Definitely. Even though superficially, one wouldn’t notice them. Estas is a musician who grew up in the former Soviet Union. In contrast, Father Renato is a catholic priest from Italy who has been working with teenagers in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas for 30 years to help them to get out of drugs and to give them a second opportunity. Estas and Father Renato have many things in common. I’m interested in stories, films and projects that focus on the human soul and love with a capital L. Estas and Father Renato have chosen love as one of their reasons to live. The first with his artistic work, the second with his humanitarian work. They aim to create a more equitable and harmonious world with passion, fury and conviction. They both have a similar personality: a great sense of humour, even when they talk about the tragedies in their lives, a great capacity for comprehension and compassion, and finally, the urge to give all they have to improve the human condition on earth.


Luca Ammendola is a Swiss-Italian film director, editor and executive producer. He grew up in Lugano (Switzerland) and France. Luca graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York. He briefly worked in the advertising world, then moved to Rome, where he learnt the craft of filmmaking from the ground up in the legendary Cinecittà film studios. He directed multiple short and medium documentaries. Dear Child, his first feature film (see trailer below), won him nine film awards including the Unicef Film Award. Luca is currently working on his second film which will feature Roger, a 30-year-old French friend who has the body of a 10-year-old due to a genetic defect. “Roger’s biggest dream is to find a woman who loves him,” says the film director in his interview with VERTIGO. “I have no intention of making a sad film about a boy and his illness as a tragedy. I want to shoot a comedy and combine lightness and happiness. It’s a very difficult project. I have to find the golden mean.”

A cat is said to have nine lives, which refers to the trinity of all trinities. That is nothing compared to Estas Tonne, a nobleman who has lived 1000 lives, according to executive producer Luca Ammendola.

A Nobleman Who Has Lived 1000 Lives is the second of a series of articles about the upcoming film I Am Music by Tal Cohen-Litant.

If you liked our article A Nobleman Who Has Lived 1000 Lives, read our latest articles about music and film.

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© All photos featured in this article, A Nobleman Who Has Lived 1000 Lives, have been taken by Geri Dagys, Estas’ personal photographer and videographer.

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